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SMC Basketball: Belles take on No. 1 Hope in MIAA quarterfinals

Meaghan Veselik | Thursday, February 28, 2008

After a 71-62 victory over Olivet on Tuesday night, Saint Mary’s takes on No. 1 Hope tonight in the semifinals of the MIAA tournament for the second year in a row.

The Belles (13-12, 8-8 MIAA) were knocked out of the MIAA tournament last season by the Flying Dutch (25-0, 16-0 MIAA).

Saint Mary’s last faced Hope on Jan. 26, losing 82-73. The Belles are 5-3 since that contest and are coming off a four-game winning streak, including beating Olivet twice in one week.

“Hope is a very solid team,” Saint Mary’s coach Jenn Henley said. “They have a lot of experience in this tournament.”

Hope has won the MIAA tournament five of the last seven years and are this season’s MIAA regular season champions with a record of 16-0.

Neither the Belles nor Henley have much experience in the MIAA tournament, but they have been in this position once before. Last season, in Henley’s first year as Saint Mary’s coach, she led her team to one of the best seasons in school history, as well as the farthest the Belles have ever gone in the MIAA tournament.

Saint Mary’s may have lost to Hope twice already this season, but this time they are looking to avenge their earlier losses and prove themselves a stronger team than their last meeting. Saint Mary’s has improved on problem areas such as defense and rebounding, outrebounding Adrian 50-38 in their Feb. 20 win and Olivet 38-33 on Tuesday.

“We have to find ways to slow down their transition game, control the boards and play great team defense,” Henley said.

Strong defense will be crucial for the Belles if they want to stop the Flying Dutch’s season-long 25 game winning streak.

Saint Mary’s does have two key advantages over Hope, however – senior guard Alison Kessler and junior forward Erin Newsom.

Averaging 20.8 points per game, Kessler is a powerhouse scorer. She leads the MIAA in points this season and is ranked 10th in all of Division III for average points per game. Kessler holds numerous school records, including most career points with 1604 to date, as well as the MIAA record for most free throws made in a game with 22.

Newsom leads the Belles’ rebounding effort and is the top MIAA rebounder. Averaging 8.8 rebounds per game, with 221 this season, Newsom has been Saint Mary’s go-to player under the basket.

Her contributions from the floor have helped the Belles winning effort as well. She is second on the team in scoring with 286 points, placing her tenth in the MIAA, as well as leading the MIAA in free-throw percentage with 92.9 percent.

The game will tip off tonight at 7:30 in Holland, Mich.

“I think our team has played very well down the stretch. To get into the semifinals is a great accomplishment and doing so two years in a row says a lot about our players,” Henley said.